Marc Lawrence of Playbook.com has 2017 Sun Belt Conference Football Betting Preview
On the surface the Sun Belt appears to be a three-horse race in 2017, according to 5 Dimes.com. Here are their odds to win the conference title this season –
Appalachian State +130
Arkansas State +325
Georgia Southern +1400
UL Lafayette +1400
New Mexico State +2000
South Alabama +2000
Georgia State +4500
UL Monroe +4500
Coastal Carolina +11500
Texas State +17500
We’re Getting There
The Sun Belt Conference will hold its first ever football championship game beginning in 2018.
“This championship will be a first-class experience – and we look forward to it being a launching-pad for a team to reach the College Football Playoff’s ‘New Year’s Six’ bowl games,” said Commissioner Karl Benson.
Note: Team write-ups are excerpts from the 2017 PLAYBOOK Football Preview Guide magazine – the 25th Anniversary Issue, on sale at newsstands nationwide. The numbers following each team name represents the amount of returning starters on offense and defense, along with the number of returning linemen, with an asterisk (*) designating a returning quarterback.
APPALACHIAN STATE Off – *6/3 Def – 7/3 45 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: ONE DAMN GOOD APP
After an injury-marred 4-8 mark in 2013, and then going 1-5 to start the following season, ASU head coach Scott Satterfield was simmering on the hot seat. But suddenly, when it mattered the most, his Mountaineers went on a mission, winning 27 of their next 32 games while going 20-2 SU against fellow Group of 5 opponents. And just like that, they were back. Now with only ONE losing season under their belt since 1993 – the aforementioned 2013 campaign – and falling in overtime at Tennessee last season, App State is primed to win its first game against a Power 5 opponent (read: Wake Forest) behind star QB Taylor Lamb (27-9 as a starter – second to Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield in total wins) and RB Jalin Moore. Remember, the Mountaineers were ranked No. 2 in the nation in 4th down percentage defense last season. Be there.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Mountaineers have won three FCS national championships since 2005.
PLAY ON: vs. Wake Forest (9/23)
ARKANSAS STATE Off – *5/0 Def – 4/1 50 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: HAVE GUN, WILL TRAVEL
To no one’s surprise, an 8-win effort in 2016 (after a 0-4 start) was in keeping with the Red Wolves’ 44 victories over the previous five seasons. What is surprising is the fact they managed to scale such heights behind four different head coaches. The good news is Blake Anderson has been at the helm with each of the last three ASU teams which, if you read in between the lines, like his predecessors he could be flying the coop with another bowl effort this campaign. According to Bill Connelly of SBNation.com, the Wolves have won or shared five of the last six Sun Belt titles, and are 20-4 in conference play under Anderson. Having arguably the best quarterback in the league in Brandon Silvers, along with talented RBs and WRs, makes the Red Wolves a contender for conference honors in 2017. They were also the top team in the land in team tackles for a loss last season. Very impressive, to say the least.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Red Wolves are 38-9 SU and 33-14 ATS from Game Six out the last six years.
PLAY ON: vs. UL-Lafayette (10/19) *KEY
COASTAL CAROLINA Off – *3/1 Def – 6/3 57 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: THE MOST INTERESTING COACH IN THE WORLD
Meet wildly successful head coach Joe Moglia and the Chanticleers. Moglia has gone 51-15 in five years at Coastal Carolina with four trips to the FCS playoffs, including 10-2 last year, with both losses by one-point each despite a cavalcade of quarterback injuries (5). A Vince Lombardi Hall of Fame award winner, he also won the 2015 Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year honor. The much-accomplished Moglia has gone from the Ivy League (DC at Dartmouth) to CEO and Chairman of the Board of Ameritrade, to an unpaid assistant at Nebraska, to head coach of the Chanticleers. He also brings an FCS all-star coaching staff with him. Granted, they were hit hard by injuries last season and graduation losses this season, but Syracuse transfer QB Austin Wilson, and Boston College RB Marcus Outlow will help spur the attack. Yes, you can say they are ready for the next level.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Chanticleers offense has averaged at least 34 PPG every season under Moglia.
Play On: vs. Massachusetts (9/2)
GEORGIA SOUTHERN Off – 5/4 Def – 5/2 23 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: POWERING DOWN
New head coach Tyson Summers knew that replacing Willie Fritz was not going to be an easy task. Little did he realize that following a 3-0 start, his Bald Eagles would be running on bald tires the rest of the way. A 2-7 blowout finish to the season would leave the Georgia Power Company on a season-ending energy outage. The fact of the matter is Summers is a non-option guy coaching an option-first offense and the regression was swift. Sensing a need to change gears immediately, Summers canned his co-offensive coordinators and brought in Paul Johnson disciple Bryan Cook to run the show. He’ll need all the drive he can get.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Before last season’s 3-2 effort, the Eagles had gone 29-4 SU at home the previous five years.
GEORGIA STATE Off – 9/4 Def – 7/2 52 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: STAGE TWO
Behind former South Carolina offensive line coach – and interim head coach – Shawn Elliott, the Panthers move into a (sort of) new stadium in their next FBS phase. Elliott – the only new face among Sun Belt head coaches in 2017 – replaces Trent Miles who was vanquished after a 10-39 mark in four years with GSU. The Panthers will call revamped Turner Field (former home of the Atlanta Braves) home, and with it they welcome a cast of experienced players led by QB Conner Manning, a former Utah transfer. Also back is star WR Penny Hart who missed most of last season with a foot injury. Because it doesn’t take much to make yourself a bowl-caliber team in the Sun Belt, Elliott’s first full year at the helm should prove successful.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Despite going 1-3 SU, the Panthers won the stats in each of their final four games last season.
PLAY ON: at UL-Monroe (10/14)
IDAHO Off – *9/3 Def – 6/1 31 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: METAMORPHOSIS BOWL
With a tear in its eye, Idaho is FCS bound next season. After twenty-one seasons at the FBS level, the Vandals will take their 76-166 (a .301 win percentage) record to a lower echelon next year. During 18 years playing on the FCS stage, Idaho went 134-79 (a .629 win percentage), including 15 winning seasons and 11 postseason appearances. So while the move will likely generate new excitement in Moscow, the fact of the matter is they will be hell-bent to build on last season’s 7-1 SU and 8-0 ATS finish. Behind a Paul Petrino offense that has improved it’s scoring each and every year on his watch, don’t count them out for one last bowl.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: After losing 30 of its previous 32 away games, Idaho went 5-3 away last season, including a 61-50 bowl win.
PLAY AGAINST: at South Alabama (9/23)
NEW MEXICO STATE Off – 8/3 Def – 9/3 44 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: SOME THINGS NEVER SEEM TO CHANGE
In four years under current head coach Doug Martin, the Aggies have averaged 2.5 wins per season. From 2005-2012, NMSU averaged 2.6 wins per season. Like a goldfish swimming in circles, some things remain constant. And because his contract expires at the end of this year, Martin resorted to signing an abundance of JUCOs, including 13 of the team’s 25 new signees this season according to SBNation.com. After largely ignoring the JUCO route, it’s apparent Martin is in all-out mode to save his rear end. With a ton of experience returning on both sides of the ball, including star RB Larry Rose III, we say if not this year… then when?
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Aggies have allowed 500 or more yards 26 times in 48 games under Martin, including ten 600+ yards games.
PLAY ON: at Ga Southern (10/14)
SOUTH ALABAMA Off – *5/3 Def – 6/3 41 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: LOOK WHO’S KNOCKING AT THE DOOR
Respectability. With three 6-win FBS seasons since jumping in with the sharks in 2012 – none fewer than five – they’ve also won three games as underdogs of more than 17 points. The problem is they have also laid some golden goose-size eggs, too. More importantly, while knocking on the door, they’ve yet to taste a winning season at this level. They did, however, knock off Mississippi State and San Diego State last year to earn a coveted bowl berth. After closing out the 2016 season with stat-wins in each of their final five games, USA opens the 2017 campaign against a murderer’s row schedule in September with three games against top-tier FBS foes that have collectively won 13 of their last 17 bowl games this decade.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Jaguars are 0-4 SUATS following a SU underdog win the past two seasons by an average loss margin of 23.3 PPG.
Play On: vs. UL-Monroe (10/21)
TEXAS STATE Off – 8/3 Def – 7/3 45 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: WITHERING HEIGHTS
Simply put, Year One under the Everett Withers coaching regime last season was not up to scratch, as the Bobcats owned the puniest rush offense in the nation. They were also the worst team in red zone defense in 2016. It was all largely due to the fact that Texas State freshmen were involved in 30% of all starts made by the Bobcats in 2016 – the most in the land. Withers is hoping Mississippi State transfer QB Damian Williams can come in and lead a suddenly experienced squad to a higher level of performance (read: more wins). Coupled with the best recruiting class in the Sun Belt this offseason, a reversal of fortune should be in order sooner rather than later.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Bobcats are 2-20 In The Stats versus FBS foes the last two seasons.
TROY Off – *10/2 Def – 6/2 54 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: ALABAMA SHAKES
Get ready, Alabama. The Trojans are one of three FBS schools in the state – and they might not be the weakest. We realize it’s a daunting statement, what with the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Auburn Tigers each residing in the same territory, but Troy will field its best team this century in 2017. Led this season by 4th year starting quarterback Brandon Silvers, the Trojans won 10 games last year behind a bevy of sophomores and juniors – who are now juniors and seniors. In addition, every rushing and pass-receiving yard returns. Stern September road trips to Boise State and LSU should shape them into a powerhouse in the Sun Belt this season.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Trojans are 9-0 ATS in regular season games following a SU favorite loss.
PLAY AGAINST: at New Mexico State (9/16)
UL-LAFAYETTE Off – 6/4 Def – 7/3 52 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: RAGIN’ MAD
There is an unraveling situation going on in Lafayette. In the last two years, ULL barely won more games (10) than it averaged under head coach Mark Hudspeth in the four years previous. It’s one of the reasons ULL has played UNDER its season win total each of the last four years. And it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand why. A quick scan of their stat-logs atop this page tells it all. The culprit is an offense that has regressed each and every year since 2012. Through it all, ULL has managed to hit the alleys in five of six seasons under Hudspeth. An ultra tough road slate puts that streak in jeopardy this season. That and the loss of QB Anthony Jennings and star RB Elijah McGuire to eligibility.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Hudspeth is 13-3 ATS as a dog vs. winning opponents, including 8-0 SUATS as a single-digit underdog.
UL-MONROE Off – 7/3 Def – 8/3 53 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: VIA VIATOR
It’s a good thing 2nd year head coach Matt Viator is on the scene. When your rush defense ranks No. 125, there is generally trouble looming. A 10-year head coach at McNeese Sate where he led the Geaux Pokes to the FCS playoffs five times, Viator rolled up his sleeves and went to work hitting the recruiting trail hard this offseason. Word is he might have landed the school’s best class ever. Unfortunately, it may take a year or two for the results to show, as the Warhawks will face no less than 10 bowl teams from last season. The good news is ULM beefed up its offense 62 YPG in 2016. Now it’s the defense’s turn.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Warhawks have been shut out in at least one game in 7 of the last 8 seasons – all versus Power Five conferences.